Monday, August 6, 2018
Pope John Paul II's mighty encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor was released on this date in 1993, and while it is probably best known in moral theology for its rejection of proportionalism (at ¶¶ 79-83: "circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act 'subjectively' good or defensible as a choice") there are a host of other vital aspects to the document. Here is a rich paragraph from an article by Alasdair MacIntyre, "How Can We Learn What Veritatis Splendor Has to Teach?," 58 The Thomist 171 (1994):
Yet as Catholics we have to listen first to what a very different set of voices have to say to us, those inspired and authoritative voices which declare the Word of God concerning those same moral matters about which our own culture speaks to us so vociferously and about which we have arrived at our own philosophical conclusions. Part of what we have to learn, or rather to relearn, from Veritatis Splendor is that, at least so far as the fundamental and central precepts of the moral law are concerned, the truths about those precepts declared to us by God through Moses and the prophets, in the revelation by Jesus Christ of the New Law and in the teaching of the Catholic Church, culminating in this very encyclical, are no other than the truths to which we have already assented as rational persons, or rather to which we would have assented, if we had not been frustrated in so doing by our own cultural, intellectual, and moral errors and deformations. Yet the encyclical also teaches us that what we encounter in Jesus Christ is immeasurably more than this. We also have to learn of our forgiveness and our redemption and of the transformation made possible in our acknowledgment of law when we come to understand it in the light afforded by Jesus Christ. Nonetheless the law declared to us by God in revelation is the same law as that which we recognize in the moral requirements imposed by our own human practical understanding and reasoning, when they are in good order. So that when we become able to hear and to respond to what Jesus Christ has to say to us, we do not have to leave behind or discard anything that we had genuinely learned concerning the moral law through reasoning. Grace often corrects, as well as completes, what we have so far taken to be conclusions of reason, but, when grace does so correct us, it is always because we have in some way failed as reasoners. And therefore Veritatis Splendor, just because it is true to this biblical teaching, will be grotesquely misunderstood if it is understood as an act of coercive imposition by an external authority, rather than an invitation to become more thoughtful and more perceptive. It does indeed speak in the name of an authority external to us, God, but that to which it invites us--that to which He invites us--is in part an act of moral and rational self-recognition. And Veritatis Splendor as a work of philosophy does itself exhibit just that moral and rational awareness to which as an encyclical it invites its readers.
Friday, August 3, 2018
A shortcoming of the Catholic debate (the past couple of days certainly included) over the death penalty is a frequent lack of attention to distinctly theological questions and how they might inform the debate. The best alternative to that theological sterility, I think, is the Anglican theologian Oliver O'Donovan, who has written perceptively (and ambivalently) about the death penalty for many years. Here is a bit from the conclusion of his essay responding to John Paul II's discussion of the death penalty in Evangelium Vitae:
I return in closing to the theological issue raised at the start: the failure of the encyclical to achieve a clear focus on the resurrection and its tendency to put the cross in its place, central to the salvation history of life but unrelated to the phenomenology of death. Now I can suggest a reason for this. John Paul’s failure, on the side of civil justice, to identify the link between judgment and mortality is reflected in a failure, on the side of death, to link mortality and judgment. Politically we have justice without death, anthropologically death without judgment….
The symbolic links of judgment and execution stand at the heart of what we understand about Christ’s reconciling death. We may be rid of ordinary uses of the death penalty in most Western states; I am glad to live in one where we are. We may one day be rid of it elsewhere, in Third World countries, Muslim societies, and so on. If we can achieve that responsibly, it will be a fine achievement – though we must be on our guard against irresponsible, crusading attitudes which fail to take the context (legal, economic, social, and moral) seriously. But we cannot be rid of the symbolic role that the death penalty plays in relating death to judgment. There will always be a death penalty in the mind – if, that is, we are all to learn to “die with Christ,” understanding our own deaths as a kind of capital punishment.
Oliver O'Donovan, "The Death Penalty in Evangelium Vitae," in Ecumenical Ventures in Ethics: Protestants Engage Pope John Paul II’s Moral Encyclicals, eds. Reinhard Hütter and Theodor Dieter (Eerdmans, 1998), 213–36 .
Thursday, August 2, 2018
Not much attention has been paid to the text of the letter from the CDF, which warrants a close reading. At Paragraphs 8 and 10 of Cardinal Ladaria’s letter, he states:
8. All of this shows that the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium. These teachings, in fact, can be explained in the light of the primary responsibility of the public authority to protect the common good in a social context in which the penal sanctions were understood differently, and had developed in an environment in which it was more difficult to guarantee that the criminal could not repeat his crime.
10. The new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church desires to give energy to a movement towards a decisive commitment to favor a mentality that recognizes the dignity of every human life and, in respectful dialogue with civil authorities, to encourage the creation of conditions that allow for the elimination of the death penalty where it is still in effect.
Much of the reaction on Twitter and elsewhere seems to be over whether the Pope is “changing” Catholic teaching, breaking with a long tradition in favor of the permissibility of the death penalty, and opening the door to all manner of mischief under the guise of doctrinal development. I think a better way of framing the question and to have a reasonable debate in light of the Church’s moral tradition is to note that the permissibility of the death penalty was understood (by Aquinas, for example) as an *exception* to an otherwise absolute norm against intentional killing, based on an understanding of the dignity of all human life. Summa Theologiae, II-II.64.7 (“As it is unlawful to take a man's life, except for the public authority acting for the common good…it is not lawful for a man to intend killing a man in self-defense, except for such as have public authority, who while intending to kill a man in self-defense, refer this to the public good.”).
And so the question becomes whether Aquinas (or anyone else in the Catholic moral tradition right up to today) can carry off a justification for such an exception—are there ends (pertaining to the common good, public order, and safety) that justify the use of what would otherwise be a forbidden means (intentional killing)? On that question, the prudential weight of doctrinal authority (over the past several pontificates) has swung from in favor (as in Aquinas) to against such justifications, and that is (merely?) what the CDF’s letter and the revision to the Catechism reflects. In at least this respect, then, the revision to the Catechism reflects and deepens the moral principle that one may not do evil that good may come. See John Finnis, Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory at p. 282 (“Aquinas therefore fails to reply convincingly to the argument that capital punishment, since it involves the intent to kill as a means, is “doing evil that good may come,” i.e. the pursuit of a good end (the restoration of the order of justice) by inherently immoral means.”).
A final brief note: it is a separate (but timely!) question how, say, a federal judge who is Catholic and accepts that the Catechism is a “sure and authentic reference” (John Paul II, Fidei Depositum IV) regarding Catholic doctrine should understand his or her responsibilities in death penalty cases. A reasonable answer to that question, it seems to me, is that the Constitution (absent an implausible reading of the Eighth Amendment to prohibit capital punishment) leaves the resolution of the death penalty’s permissibility to the political branches and that the judicial role requires an impartial application of what the positive law provides as to criminal punishment.
Friday, July 6, 2018
Before the chaos surrounding the confirmation of his successor gets underway next week, a look back at the legacy of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Safe to say he will most be remembered for the series of cases involving LGBT rights from Romer v. Evans in 1996 through Lawrence v. Texas, United States v. Windsor, and Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. He was in the middle of the Court on abortion, upholding the core of Roe v. Wade in the plurality opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 while writing an opinion upholding restrictions on abortion in Gonzales v. Carhart in 2007. And he wrote important decisions on federalism questions, notably Boerne v. Flores involving Congress’s power to enforce Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment and Alden v. Maine regarding state sovereign immunity.
He also had an outsized influence in First Amendment law, both as to freedom of speech and the Religion Clauses: e.g., Citizens United v. FEC, Town of Greece v. Galloway, Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah, Sorrell v. IMS Health, and, most recently, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. But what was Justice Kennedy’s best First Amendment opinion (“best” here just meaning my own subjective judgment blending together lasting doctrinal importance with soundness of result and analysis)?
My candidate: Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia (1995). Recall that Rosenberger was about whether UVA could deny student activity funding (specifically payment for printing costs) to a Christian student publication as part of a policy that denied such funding to “religious activities.” UVA defended the policy on the grounds that there was no content or viewpoint-based restriction on speech in the policy and that the policy was required by the Establishment Clause (the case was argued by two academic luminaries--Michael McConnell for Rosenberger and John Jeffries for UVA). Writing for a 5-4 majority, Justice Kennedy held that the denial of funding was an unconstitutional violation of free speech that complying with the Establishment Clause did not excuse.
I won’t try to summarize all of the twists and turns in Rosenberger, but here are briefly what seem to me the two most important and lasting aspects of Justice Kennedy’s opinion:
1. Rosenberger placed an equality norm at the center of cases about religious speech and government funding of religious activities. Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Rosenberger doubled down on the Court’s equal access cases such as Lamb’s Chapel and refused to allow religion as a category to be treated distinctly or suspiciously when the state regulates expression or provides public benefits (seen most recently in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer). This comes about in Rosenberger through two moves in free speech doctrine: deeming the provision of funding by UVA a public forum (though more in a “metaphysical than in a spatial or geographic sense”) and holding that the exclusion of religious perspectives is unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. And even though some cases (notably Locke v. Davey and CLS v. Martinez) might be hard to square with what I’m calling Rosenberger’s religious equality norm, Rosenberger still put that concern on a new footing.
2. Rosenberger marked an important departure from the Establishment Clause separationism of the 1970s and 80s in cases such as Lemon, Nyquist, and Aguilar. Of course, the issue in Rosenberger was in a sense the converse of the usual Establishment Clause funding case, i.e., not “may the government fund religious activities?” but “must the government not fund religious activities?” Justice Kennedy’s opinion states that so long as a program is neutral toward religion, the Establishment Clause does not require (let alone excuse) viewpoint-based restrictions on religious speech: “[T]he guarantee of neutrality is respected, not offended, when the government, following neutral criteria and evenhanded policies, extends benefits to recipients whose ideologies and viewpoints, including religious ones, are broad and diverse.” And so while the Establishment Clause discussion in Rosenberger is subsidiary to the free speech claim, it also foretold the Court’s move away from strict separationism in later cases such as Agostini v. Felton in 1997 and Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002 (which characterized Rosenberger as “involv[ing] an individual and insubstantial use of neutrally available public funds for a religious purpose”).
May Justice Kennedy enjoy many happy years in retirement—and with our gratitude for Rosenberger v. UVA.
Monday, July 2, 2018
The holding in Janus v. AFSCME last week that compulsory public sector agency fees are unconstitutional ushered in some commentary about the relationship between Janus and the long tradition in Catholic social thought of supporting unionization. The USCCB filed an amicus brief in the case supporting the union side, Bishop Frank Dewane (Bishop of Venice, Florida and Chairman of the USCCB Committe on Domestic Justice and Human Development) issued a statement expressing disappointment with the decision in Janus, and Michael Sean Winters has a piece here condemning the decision. On the other side, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois tweeted a message of approval for the outcome in Janus, which resulted in a series of replies with a tone and vehemence that are typical of Catholic Twitter.
I’ve already staked out my position (as has Rick Garnett here at MOJ), but here are a couple of clarifying questions about the issues in Janus as they pertain to Catholic social teaching that—I hope—might be the start of a better conversation than “unions—hooray!” or “unions—boo!”.
1. Do public sector unions pose distinctive issues from the concerns that ground the Catholic social tradition’s support for unions?
One of the consistent themes in the arguments for the outcome in Janus is that agency shop arrangements in the public sector are meaningfully different than such arrangements in the private sector. The “management” on the other side of the bargaining table in public employment is the state whose leaders are the subject of lobbying and political support from…the public employee union. Rerum Novarum and the ensuing line of Catholic teaching on unionization were primarily addressed to the urgent necessity of unions for trade workers in the private sector. In light of the rise of wage labor amid industrialization, Leo XIII focused on the problem of commutative justice and how the formation of workers’ associations would be ordered to the common good.
That does not entail, of course, that Catholic social teaching is irrelevant to public sector unions—but the more fruitful conversation, I think, would be somewhere in between the view that CST on unions applies simply and conterminously between public and private sector unions and the view that CST has nothing to do at all with public employee unions. Do the principles of CST supporting the rights of workers to organize apply with full or modified force in the public sector union context? There is a long scholarly literature about public sector bargaining that highlights the inelastic demand for services and bargaining power of public employee unions, with important policy and economic consequences. To my knowledge, Catholic social teaching has not engaged with that literature.
2. How should we understand the relation between the Catholic social tradition on rights of association and First Amendment freedom of speech?
As presented in litigation, Janus is foremost a case about the scope of First Amendment rights and not about whether unions are a good thing or a bad thing. Specifically, the case was about the claim by plaintiffs such as Mark Janus that the payment of an agency fee amounted to compulsory subsidization of political activity (and more precisely, that Abood’s distinction between chargeable expenses for collective bargaining activities and expenses for political activities was not sustainable, see pp. 28-31 of the slip opinion). Pace Eugene Volokh and Will Baude’s interesting and thoughtful brief, both the majority opinion by Justice Alito and the dissent by Justice Kagan assumed agency fees pose some plausible First Amendment burden on employees such as Janus. Their disagreement was over whether that burden runs headlong into a “no compelled speech” principle (Alito) or whether that burden is justified by a deferential, lower level of scrutiny derived from the government employee speech line of cases coming out of Pickering v. Board of Education (Kagan).
It seems to me that Catholic social teaching underdetermines the answer to this First Amendment problem, in large part because CST on rights of workers' associations begins with a thick understanding of the common good and civil society (which is served by maintenance of a living wage for laborers to support the family) and gets around belatedly to rights of freedom of expression. Catholic social thought has not developed much by way of an account of why and when freedom of speech should be legally protected, and Millian liberal or “marketplace of ideas” accounts presumably sit uneasily with the Catholic understanding of law and politics. Apart from a passing mention of freedom of speech in Pacem in Terris or perhaps by derivation from religious freedom in Dignitatis Humanae, there just isn’t much in the tradition (and the concerns about “indifferentism” in, say Pope Gregory XVI’s Mirari Vos did not lend themselves to a robust doctrine of freedom of speech, to put it mildly). Even John Courtney Murray—usually associated with an irenic assimilation of Catholic political thought and American constitutional law—struggles in this little known essay to square the Catholic commitment to the "moral basis of government" and "ordered liberty" with the then-nascent U.S. Supreme Court caselaw on free speech. All of which is—again—not to say that Catholic social teaching doesn’t speak to the question at all (and perhaps says all the worse for the individualism of American constitutional rights discourse), but only that CST does not resolve the constitutional question in a straightforward way.
Thursday, June 28, 2018
Although much of the commentary about yesterday’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME couldn’t resist jumping right to politically partisan conservative/liberal descriptions of the case, it seems to me lawyers and law profs should spend a little time on the free speech doctrinal aspects of Janus. So here’s one rough take: Janus is a great vehicle for understanding the differences between formalism and functionalism (along the lines, say, of this piece by Bill Eskridge) in First Amendment law, or, stated otherwise, Justice Alito’s opinion overruling Abood v. Detroit Board of Education marks the ongoing demise of the disco era in free speech jurisprudence.
Reading the characterizations of Abood in the majority opinion by Justice Alito and the dissent by Justice Kagan, I was struck by how much Abood was a creature of the 1970s Supreme Court. There’s scarcely a doctrinal test or free speech category to be found in Justice Stewart’s opinion, but there is a lot of gesturing toward fairness (“free rider” problems), legislative judgments in the labor area, policy considerations (the concern with “labor peace”), and splitting the difference (in Abood, by separating out agency fees for chargeable collective bargaining expenses and fees that go to political activities). In those respects, Abood is broadly of a piece with other free speech cases from the era such as Buckley v. Valeo, Wooley v. Maynard, Virginia State Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, and the series of obscenity cases coming out of Miller v. California.
Following Eskridge’s description of functionalism, these cases employed standards rather than rules, favored multi-factor balancing tests (when a test is formulated at all), often discussed various policy “interests” that were in play as part of a process of induction from those interests to a holding, and sometimes invoked ad hoc principles that resisted wider application (such as the “secondary effects” doctrine of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, which is at the outer edge of the era in 1986). Even the case that has come to be seen as the beginning of the distinction between content-based and content-neutral regulation of speech, Chicago v. Mosley from 1972, is a gauzy discussion of free speech and the Equal Protection Clause. (There is probably a similar story about the Free Exercise Clause cases of that period, most especially Wisconsin v. Yoder.)
But just like Josh Neff in Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco tries too hard in one of the final scenes of the movie to hold on to the era (“Disco was too great, and too much fun, to be gone forever! It's got to come back someday. I just hope it will be in our own lifetimes.”), free speech law has left behind the functionalism of the 1970s and 80s and moved in a decidedly more formalist direction. Cases now come in sharply delineated categories, the application of strict scrutiny to all content-based regulation of speech does a lot of work across a wide range of cases (as seen this week in NIFLA v. Becerra), and opinions often begin with a principle (in Janus, no compelled subsidization of speech) and reason deductively to the holding (Abood got around to a brief discussion of the "impact upon [employees'] First Amendment interests" after several pages of discussion about agency shop arrangements and labor policy). It's hard to know when the disco era started coming to an end, but Justice Scalia's opinion in RAV v. St. Paul in 1992 is a good marker.
This is all very general, of course, with a lot of details to be filled in. But in the opinions by Justices Alito and Kagan, I think we can see the difference between the functionalism of the free speech disco era and the formalism of today. For what it’s worth, my own views are strongly in the direction of formalism, and I think Justice Alito’s opinion is thoroughly correct—a topic for another day.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Building on Villanova's astonishing basketball success and national championship victory, the McCullen Center for Law, Religion, and Public Policy at Villanova will be hosting two events over the next few weeks of interest to MOJ readers in the Philadelphia area (both events are free and open to the public):
Then on Tuesday, April 24 at 3:00pm, Anthony Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law and former Dean at Yale Law School, will deliver the annual Giannella Lecture on "Nicholas of Cusa: Prophet of Modernity." Details here.
Monday, February 26, 2018
The Supreme Court hears oral argument this morning in one of this term's major First Amendment cases, Janus v. AFSCME. Some of the questions posed about the case and especially the issues raised in this brief by the USCCB have been thoughtfully explored in a series of posts by Ed Whelan (e.g., here) and Michael Sean Winters (e.g., here).
I wrote about Catholic social teaching and public sector unions back in 2016 when the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association and am reposting that below. Suffice to say that nothing in the USCCB brief or in the commentary about it causes me to change my views. It's worth emphasizing that Janus is about a narrow if important bit of constitutional doctrine concerning compelled subsidies and speech in the public employment sector. The USCCB brief and commentary supporting it mistakenly, in my view, kick up a host of misleading (because usually failing to note the important distinction between the public and private sectors) and irrelevant (because not engaging the legal questions and the reasoning--or lack thereof--in Abood) issues about right to work laws, civil society, intermediate institutions, Bowling Alone, and so forth. More to come after oral argument.
I was hoping someone would give me a chance to say something about Monday’s oral argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and MOJ-friend Michael Sean Winters graciously obliges over at his blog in a post about the latest “assault” on unions. Michael Sean and I have been around before on some issues about Catholic social teaching and unions, so why stop now?
One can, as I do, subscribe to the Catholic Church’s teaching from Rerum Novarum on about the role of unions in civil society, appreciate much in the insightful paper by Lew Daly to which Michael Sean cites, and yet think all of that has nothing to do with the issues in Friedrichs.
For starters, I think Michael Sean is a little cavalier in writing that Friedrichs is “not really about the First Amendment at all.” That’s a conclusion, not an argument. And on the law of the First Amendment, Friedrichs poses some hard questions (unless, I suppose, one is prepared broadly to countenance compelled subsidization of speech). I am not sure the point of Michael Sean’s initial hypotheticals about violations of trade secrets and trademarks, but the issue in Friedrichs strikes me as quite different. No one doubts that violations of trade secrets and trademarks can be sanctioned. But can the state require as a condition of public sector employment that a non-union member pay an agency fee? That’s a difficult question, and the answer the Court gave almost 40 years ago in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education is badly reasoned (as just one example, by assuming the constitutionality of compulsory payments based on two private sector union cases, Railway Employees’ Department v. Hanson and Machnists v. Street, that dealt with the First Amendment issue in a sentence and not at all, respectively). A cite to Rerum Novarum doesn’t resolve the free speech question.
And then there’s the basic distinction between private and public sector unions. The permissibility of agency dues in the private sector isn’t at issue in Friedrichs (conceded at the outset of oral argument by Michael Carvin), so it’s a little hard to see how this is an all-out “assault” against unions. Nor does Friedrichs question the permissibility of agency shop arrangements in either the public or private sector, only whether non-union members must subsidize a public employee union’s political activity—so the arguments in Michael Sean’s penultimate paragraph about union formation seem to me beside the point. The line between collective bargaining and political activity for public sector unions is impossible to draw, and that’s the core of the plaintiffs legal argument against the compulsory agency fee. As Justice Kennedy put it at oral argument:
The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders for issues on which they strongly disagree. Many teachers think that they are devoted to the future of America, to the future of our young people, and that the union is equally devoted to that but that the union is absolutely wrong in some of its positions. And agency fees require, as I understand it—correct me if I'm wrong—agency fees require that employees and teachers who disagree with those positions must nevertheless subsidize the union on those very points.
Finally, could I make a plea here for scholars working on Catholic social thought to spend a little time confronting the classic argument by Ralph Winter and Harry Wellington about public sector collective bargaining before waxing rhapsodic about Rerum Novarum and the unalloyed blessings that unions provide? As Rick Hills put it a while ago, the inelasticity of demand for their services and manipulation of the political process to their advantage means that public employee unions are differently situated than, say, trade unions. There are all sorts of bad policies created when public union-controlled services (prisons and public schools in some areas, for example) are consumed largely by lower income people, which is, at least arguably, part of the reason why we have so many prisons and such bad public schools (as Rick points out, the prison guard union in California was a powerful lobby for "three strikes, you're out" life sentencing). I hope the plaintiffs prevail in Friedrichs because that’s the right legal outcome, but I also think it would be a small step to correcting some of our injustices and policy distortions.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
As Rick noted, I'll be part of an event in Chicago tomorrow sponsored by the Lumen Christi Institute with Adrian Vermeule and Jeff Pojanowski on Richard Helmholz's book Natural Law in Court: A History of Legal Theory in Practice. Details here. I noted a couple years ago a review by John Goldberg of the book when it was published, and the event should be an interesting exploration of the themes in the book as well as a celebration of the remarkable career of Dick Helmholz.
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Nice news out of Villanova (press release here), where the Widger School of Law has named its Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy after Eleanor H. McCullen in recognition of $5 million in gifts from her husband, Joseph T. McCullen, Jr. Among her many remarkable achievements, Mrs. McCullen was the plaintiff in McCullen v. Coakley, the 2014 case in which the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts abortion clinic buffer zone statute. The naming of the Center in her honor is a wonderful tribute to a pro-life and free speech champion.